When news broke of three-year-old Caylee Anthony’s disappearance from her home in Florida in July 2008, there was a huge outpouring of sympathy across the nation. The search for Caylee made front-page headlines. But there was one huge question mark hanging over the case: the girl’s mother.
As the investigation continued and suspicions mounted, Casey became the prime suspect. In October, based on new evidence against Casey—her erratic behavior and lies, her car that showed signs of human decomposition—a grand jury indicted the young single mother. Then, two months later, police found Caylee’s remains a quarter of a mile away from the Anthony home. Casey pled not guilty to charges of murder in the first degree, and she continues to protest her innocence. Did she or didn’t she kill Caylee? This is the story of one of the most shocking, confusing, and horrific crimes in modern American history.
George Anthony stopped by the post office to pick up a certified letter just before noon on July 15, 2008. White hair flowed straight back from his forehead, leaving a pronounced widow’s peak. Still-dark eyebrows predominated his face, making his eyes appear sunken over his sharp nose.
Considering the way the mail was sent, and his recent financial problems, George thought it was bound to be bad news inside the envelope. He was right. It was a notification from Johnson’s Wrecker Service. It made no sense. According to the company, they had possession of his family Pontiac. His daughter Casey drove this car, and she was in Jacksonville. He didn’t understand how the 1998 Pontiac Sunfire had ended up in an impound lot in Orlando.
He called his wife Cindy. She was equally puzzled by the situation. George headed to the Narcoossee Road address to ask questions and pick up the car. At the front counter, Nicole Lett surprised him when she said that Johnson’s Wreckers had towed the Pontiac at the end of June at the request of Amscot, a payday loan company, on the corner of East Colonial Drive and North Goldenrod Road in Orlando. To retrieve the vehicle, he needed to show proof of ownership and pay $466.78 in cash for the towing and storage charges.
George called Cindy again. Then he called Amscot and asked why they’d ordered the car removed from their lot. They told him the car had sat in the spot for three days before they’d called Johnson’s Wreckers. They thought it had been abandoned.
Cindy and George met at home, picked up the title, stopped at the bank to withdraw $500 and, two hours after George’s first visit, returned to the towing company.
The couple walked up to the counter and greeted Nicole. Cindy, in a cute, short blonde cut with youthful bangs, was in obvious ire. She demanded an explanation of the company’s process for sending a certified letter, expressing her annoyance at the number of days that had passed before they received notification in the mail. “We thought the car was in Jacksonville. How were we supposed to know it was here?”
Nicole attempted to explain the situation, but Cindy wasn’t listening. She launched instead into a long complaint about having to pay the high charges, particularly the $35 administrative fee for sending the certified letter. She also balked at paying all of the accumulated storage charges, blaming the company for the notification delay.
Nicole was used to dealing with disgruntled customers. No one was ever pleased to come to the lot to recover their car, and usually, they took it out on her. The difference with this couple was their surprise and confusion. They could not understand why the car was here instead of up north where their daughter said she’d driven it. They fretted vocally about not seeing her or their granddaughter for a month or more. Nicole had no answers to that question. She called her supervisor, Simon Burch, to address their other concerns.
When he approached the counter, Cindy asked, “Why is the bill so expensive? Why did it take eleven days to notify me that you had my car?”
“Per Florida statutes, on the fourth day, we’re required by law to send out a certified letter to the registered owner of the vehicle. Our computer system automatically generates those letters,” he answered. He spread out a calendar and together they looked at the dates. “Four days after your car arrived was the Fourth of July. Due to the holiday and the weekend that followed, that’s probably why it took so long for the letter to get to you. We can’t control the post office.”
“Okay,” Cindy said. “I understand, and I appreciate it.” She then turned to George and they exchanged terse comments. She obviously was still dissatisfied and a bit disgruntled that George was not taking a strong stand. She turned back to Simon and asked for a discount.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m not at liberty to do that. You know, unfortunately, this is a business. It’s not a particularly pleasant job sometimes, but it is a business, you know, that’s in business to make money, and we don’t give discounts.”
Unhappy, but seeing no other alternative, Cindy agreed to pay. Nicole filled out the paperwork, got verification of ownership on line, accepted payment and issued a receipt. Simon asked, “Do you have the keys?”
George said he did.
“Okay, no problem, then. I’ll come around and get you.”
As Simon and George walked to the vehicle in the pouring rain, George apologized for his wife’s aggressive manner. “We’ll probably get divorced over this. The daughter is telling us crap, a bunch of lies.”
“I’m sorry about your situation,” Simon sympathized.
“I just need to see my granddaughter. You know, she won’t let us see our granddaughter,” George complained.
“I’m sorry about your situation, sir. You know, I’m sorry your car got impounded, but this is what it is,” Simon said.
When they got within three feet of the white Pontiac, George smelled a distinctive unpleasant odor. He’d once worked in law enforcement. He knew that smell, and it filled him with dread. He thought of his daughter and granddaughter. Please don’t let this be what I think it is. He walked around to the driver’s side and inserted the key. He noticed his granddaughter’s car seat in the back and pulled open the door.
“Whoa, does that stink!” Simon exclaimed. The stench reminded him of another car that had been impounded recently. Before they towed it, the vehicle had sat for fi ve days—with the body of a man who’d committed suicide inside.
George sat down in the driver’s seat and reached over to the other side, opening the passenger’s door to ventilate the car. As he breathed in the odor, his horror increased. He turned the key in the ignition to start it, but then he paused. No, George, he told himself. If there’s something wrong, you got to find out now. You can’t take it away.
“Will you please walk around to the back of the car and look inside this with me?” George asked. Please don’t let this be my Caylee.
“Well, here, let me. Give me the keys and we’ll open the trunk up. There’s something like garbage in here.”
“Yeah,” was all George could find to reply.
When the trunk opened, flies buzzed out, and both men rocked back on their heels from the pungent odor. “Puff!” George exclaimed. “That’s rotten!”
Simon knew with certainty that rotting garbage did not smell like that, but he kept those thoughts to himself.
The men saw an imperfectly round, basketball- sized stain in the middle of the trunk. To the left, by the taillight, was a trash bag. “Let’s just make sure there is garbage in here,” Simon said. He pulled the bag toward the edge of the trunk, surprised by its light weight. Unfastening the tie, he spread open the top. They both peered down at papers, dryer lint, Arm & Hammer laundry detergent, a pizza box and other assorted trash.
“Well, here, I’ll take care of this. I’ll get rid of it for you,” Simon said. He walked toward the front of the car, where a Dumpster sat on the other side of the fence. He heaved the bag over. While Simon disposed of the trash, George stepped into a corner, hunched over and heaved up his most recent meal.
George pulled himself together, slid into the front seat and tried to start the car again, but he couldn’t get the engine to turn over. Simon looked over George’s shoulder at the control panel and saw that the gas gauge pointed to empty. “Oh, it’s out of gas,” he said.
“Okay,” George said. “Well, I brought gas with me.”
Together they walked back to George’s car. George reiterated his complaints about his daughter’s lies along the way. He pulled a small, round, battered metal gas can with chipped paint out of the trunk. On the way back to the Pontiac, George apologized again for his wife’s attitude.
“I totally understand, dude,” Simon said. “We get it all the time. It’s no big deal.”
With a gallon of gas in its tank, the car started right up. George drove it out of the fenced lot to the front of the business, where he got out and approached Simon again. George offered his hand and said, “Thank you. I’m sorry.”
Simon shook his hand and said, “Yeah, no problem. No problem. Have a good day now.” He turned away and went inside as George approached Cindy’s car.
“This car stinks so bad,” he told his wife, “I don’t know how I can drive it home.”
He wanted to roll the windows all the way down, but the rainfall made that impossible. With the windows cracked less than an inch, he could not get enough fresh air, and gagged all the way home. He pulled the Pontiac into the garage.
Cindy walked in and came to an abrupt stop. “Jesus Christ!” she shouted. “What died?”
George stood in silence, not daring to voice his darkest fears.
“George, it was the pizza, right?” Cindy asked in a voice tinged with desperation.
“Yeah,” George lied, “it was the pizza.”
Nonetheless, the sight of Caylee’s car seat in the back, along with her white backpack, adorned with brown monkeys, and her very favorite baby doll, cinched up Cindy’s anxiety another notch. The couple removed the battery from the car to foil any plans their daughter Casey might have to remove the vehicle from the garage. They thought about going through the car in search of answers, but Cindy saw the rising level of anger in her husband and knew they both needed to be at work. “I’ll take care of everything with Casey,” she told her agitated husband. Cindy left home to finish her day as a managing nurse at Gentiva Health Services in Winter Park. George reported for security duty at the Premiere Cinema in the Fashion Square Mall.
When Cindy returned home, she walked straight to the garage. She thought it very odd that Casey had left a purse in the car. She picked it up and found a piece of paper beneath it with the phone number for Amy Huizenga scrawled on it. Cindy had never met Amy, but knew she was her daughter’s friend. She stopped her inspection of the car to call.
Cindy caught Amy at The Florida Mall where she was hanging out with her friend J.P., who was shopping for a cell phone. “Amy, this is Mrs. Anthony, Casey’s mom. Have you seen Casey in the last few days?”
“Well, Mrs. Anthony, she picked me up at the airport a few hours ago. I just got back from Puerto Rico.”
“Really? How did she pick you up?”
“I had lent her my car for the last week because her car was in the shop.”
“Do you have your car now?” Cindy asked.
“No, I’m at the mall with a friend.”
“Well where is your car? Does Casey still have it?”
“No, I dropped her off at Tony Lazzaro’s. I believe that’s where she’s at. My car is at my apartment.”
“How long will you be there? When do you think you’ll get back to the apartment? I’d like to meet up with you and talk to you.”
“I don’t know,” Amy said. “We might be here for a little while.”
“Amy, I don’t know where Casey is, and I don’t know if Caylee’s with her or not. I’m a little concerned. Do you think I could come pick you up? ’Cause I’m not that far. We live close to the airport. It would take me twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.”
When Amy paused, Cindy explained about the car in the impound lot and said that she needed Amy’s help. “If we don’t find Casey, she’ll end up in jail,” Cindy pleaded, sounding as if she were on the verge of tears. If she didn’t locate her granddaughter soon, someone would certainly call the police.
Amy hesitated. “I could meet you somewhere, but I need to make a phone call first.” She disconnected the line and thought about the panic in Cindy’s voice, the strained tone of an emotional parent who was concerned and not sure what to do. Cindy’s willingness to drive all the way to the mall compelled Amy to help her. She called J.P.’s cell and asked him how much longer he thought he’d be in line, waiting to get the new iPhone.
“An hour or more,” he said.
Amy told him she was getting another ride. She returned Cindy’s call and agreed to the pick- up.
Amy was the visually opposite of her petite, olive-complected friend Casey—half-a-foot taller, with blonde hair and an athletic build. On the ride over to Tony’s apartment to find Casey, Cindy related every detail of the impounded car story, from receiving the initial letter to bringing the vehicle home from the wrecker company. “The car smelled like something died in it,” Cindy confided. “We were terrified that either Caylee or Casey was stuffed in the trunk until we got it open.”
“Oh, yeah,” Amy said. “Casey told me she had run something over with her car.”
“Really? Well, we didn’t know that.”
Amy decided not to expand on the story. Actually Casey had said that her dad ran something over with the car, but she knew Casey often lied.
Cindy continued her story about the smell in the trunk of the car. “The impound lot didn’t have the keys, so they couldn’t open the trunk. When we opened the trunk, there were pizza boxes with maggots inside. We’re assuming that’s what the smell was,” Cindy said.
Amy didn’t contradict Cindy, but she was certain that Casey had told her the smell came from the engine.
Cindy continued, “But I’m worried about Caylee. I haven’t talked to her. I haven’t seen her for over a month. Casey keeps telling me, ‘She’s fine. She’s with the nanny.’ But I’m worried. I think Casey is an unfit mother. She parties all the time. If this goes on much longer, I’ll sue for custody of Caylee if it comes to that. Do you know where Casey works?”
“I’m not even sure she has a job,” Cindy said, and then outlined Casey’s history of stealing money from her parents. “She even stole money from her eighty-year-old grandmother by using the routing number on a birthday check.”
“I loaned her eighty dollars to get the car towed,” Amy said. Then she told Cindy about another mystery. According to Casey, Amy had sleepwalking problems. Casey said that recently Amy, in a semi-conscious state, had pulled out a wad of bills, counted it out—$400 altogether—and tucked it away for safe keeping. Amy believed the story because of an incident a couple of weeks earlier. “I don’t remember doing it. I don’t know why I did it, but I woke up in a different pair of pants.” Amy tore the house apart looking for the cash, but never found it. She thought she must have hidden it a little too well.
“No, honey,” Cindy said. “That money is gone. You’ll never see it again.”
Amy wondered how deep Casey’s lies went. “Has Mr. Anthony been sick at all lately, or been in the hospital?”
“No, not at all,” Cindy answered.
So the story of the stroke was a lie. “Alright, this is a little personal, but I need to know how far this thing goes. Are you and your husband having any, you know, marital trouble right now?”
“No, not at all.”
Casey’s story of her father’s two-year affair was a lie then, too, Amy thought. “Are you selling your house to Casey?”
“That was never even a thought in my mind.” Cindy went on to explain that she’d once considered Casey’s request to buy the house, but her daughter could not afford the mortgage.
Amy led Cindy up the stairs to Tony’s apartment. Cindy hung back in a corner, out of view. When Amy knocked, a voice shouted, “Come in.”
Amy opened the door, saw Casey, and motioned her over. She then turned to Cindy and urged her closer. When the two came together, Amy remained trapped in a corner while they squabbled.
Beneath slick, dark chin-length hair, Casey’s face radiated sweetness, warmth and a fun-loving nature when she smiled. But at moments like this, when she was angered, all of that washed away in a cold deluge, making her look hard, harsh and unforgiving. “What are you doing here?” Casey snapped at her mother.
“Where is Caylee?” Cindy demanded to know.
“She’s fine. She’s with the nanny,” Casey said without any attempt to disguise her irritation.
“You’re going to take me to her right now,” Cindy insisted.
“You don’t need to see her.”
Amy wriggled out of the corner and went a ways down the stairs to get out of the line of fire while she waited for her ride home.
“I have to see her and make sure she’s okay,” Cindy pleaded.
“She’s with the nanny. She’s good. We needed some space.” Casey’s angry tone increased with every word she spoke.
Twenty- two-year-old Casey displayed an attitude that reminded Amy of a petulant sixteen-year-old girl caught violating curfew and lashing out at her mother.
Cindy’s voice hardened. “I want to see my granddaughter. I want to be selfi sh. You are taking me to see Caylee now.”
Cindy remained unrelenting on the subject. Finally, after half an hour, Casey gave in. “Fine,” she said. “We’ll drop off Amy and we’ll talk.”
“We can talk, but you’re taking me to Caylee. I want to see my granddaughter.”
Casey stormed back into the apartment. Unaware of the conversation outside of the apartment, Anthony and his roommate were surprised by the intensity of her angry entrance. Cindy waited in the doorway. “Get your things,” Cindy shouted as Casey rushed away. “You’re coming with me.”
“Okay, but I’m coming back,” Casey snapped.
“No,” Cindy insisted. “Get all of your things.”
“No, I’m coming back,” Casey retorted.
While Casey gathered a few items from the bedroom, Cindy stood rigidly at the door. Tony felt awkward, having never met Casey’s mother, but he tried to be courteous. “Hello,” he said. “You can come in.”
Cindy stepped inside and said, “I hope you’re rich, because Casey’s going to take all your money and leave you high and dry.”
Anthony and his roommate stared at her blankly, not knowing how to respond. Casey stomped back into the living room and shouted, “Shut up!” at her mother. Without another word, she walked outside and Cindy followed.
As they drove, Cindy continued to badger Casey for answers. Casey was not at all forthcoming. Amy squirmed in the back seat. The mother–daughter war of wills made her very uncomfortable.
Cindy continued to pepper her daughter with questions. “The car smells like shit. We were terrified. We thought something happened to you and Caylee. What happened in that car?”
Casey gave no response.
“Why did you lead Amy on about buying the house?” Cindy continued.
Amy cringed. She wanted to be left out of it. Just take me home. Drop me off. I found Casey, my job is done.
Casey didn’t answer that query either. She gazed straight ahead, outside of the car. Her face was hard and cold, with no evidence of remorse, no hint of apology.
When they pulled to the curb to drop her off, Amy suppressed a huge sigh of relief. As she stepped out of the car, Cindy said, “I’ll let you know what happens. I’ll let you know if Caylee’s okay.”
For a while, Cindy drove around, begging and insisting that Casey take her to Caylee. Her daughter, however, resisted, claiming Caylee would be asleep and she didn’t want to bother her.
Exasperated with her daughter, Cindy called her husband’s cell and left a message. “Hey, George, call me as quick as you can.”
George called her back ten or fifteen minutes later, at about 8:15, but the call was routed to voicemail. “Hey, I just wanted to let you know I’m here. What’s going on? Is everything okay?” When he hadn’t heard from her fi fteen minutes later, he tried the home phone and got no answer there either. He called his son, Lee, who lived a couple of blocks away. “It’s a long story, but Casey’s in a lot of trouble. We don’t know where Caylee’s at. I’m worried about your mother. Get down there. Beat feet. Get to Mom.”
Casey’s older brother Lee pulled up to the house fi ve minutes after talking to his father. The coarse blackness of his facial hair gave him a nearly perpetual 5 o’clock shadow beneath the ridge of his heavy brow and dominant eyebrows. As usual he entered through the garage, where he found himself repelled by the smell. He saw the white Pontiac his sister drove—the trunk was open, the windows rolled down.
He went into the house, but no one was at home, raising his sense of alarm. He called his mother’s cell. Meanwhile, Cindy had given up on getting any cooperation from her daughter and called the sheriff’s department, where she was told to go home and call them back from there. To Lee she said, “I’m thirty seconds away from pulling in. I’ve got your sister in the car.”
“Okay,” Lee said and went outside to meet them as they pulled into the driveway. He saw the strain on their faces as they stepped out of the car. Casey snapped at her mother, “You know you won’t even listen to me, so why do I even bother!” She stomped off inside.
“Mom, what’s going on?” Lee asked.
“Your sister knows where Caylee is, and she won’t take me to her. I’m going to call the police, and you need to talk to your sister.”
Lee left his mother in the living room and went down the hall to his sister’s bedroom. He stood in the doorway while Casey sat on the side of the bed. He hoped he could delay the call to the police by getting information from her. “Where is Caylee?”
“I know where Caylee is. She’s with the nanny. She’s sleeping. I don’t want to take her out of what’s been normal for her lately. We can get her in the morning,” Casey insisted.
Cindy stalked down the hall talking about her concern over the state of the car and complaining that Casey had lied about being out of town. “Okay,” she said. “If you weren’t where you were, how do I know that Caylee is where you say she’s been?”
Lee offered what he hoped was an acceptable compromise: “I will go. Tell me where I can go to see Caylee myself. I’ll go for five minutes. I’ll do it your way. I’ll just go and just make sure that she’s okay.” He then offered to take along his roommate to verify what he saw.
Cindy interrupted, “That is unacceptable. I want her here. I want her home. I don’t want just to see her. I want to hold her. I want her to be here.” She walked away in frustration.
“Mom won’t allow that to happen,” Casey told Lee, confirming her mother’s statement.
Lee continued to try to reason with his sister. At nearly six feet tall, he towered over his younger sister. “What’s going on? What’s the deal? Why are you going to allow Mom to get the police involved in this?”
“I don’t want to disrupt her life, because from here on out, Caylee’s life will never be the same.”
“Could you take Mom and me to Caylee tomorrow?” Lee asked, seeking a compromise between his mother and sister.
“Mom has thrown it in my face many times before that I’m an unfit mother, and, you know, maybe she’s right, and maybe I am.”
Lee didn’t want to get distracted by side issues. He wanted to solve the problem of the moment. “Why won’t you allow us to see Caylee?”
“Maybe I’m a spiteful bitch,” Casey snarled.
“Well, I don’t get it. What’s in it for you? Why are you letting the police get involved in this? This doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“Look, maybe this should have been done a long time ago. I’ve stolen money from Mom. I’ve been a bad daughter. I’ve stolen money from you. I’ve been untrustworthy. And maybe I have been a . . . a . . . a, you know, a bad mother, daughter and sister, you know? So this should have been done a long time ago.”
Lee asked again about seeing Caylee, and Casey continued in her obstinate refusal.
At last he threw up his hands and turned to his mother. “Fine, call the cops, because I’m with you. I want her to prove it, if she won’t allow us to go.”
Cindy stepped outside with the phone and punched in 9-1-1. “I have someone here who I need to be arrested in my home,” Cindy told the operator.
“They are there right now?”
“And I have a possible missing child,” Cindy said with a sob. “I have a three-year-old who has been missing for a month.”
“A three-year-old? Have you reported that?”
“I’m trying to do that now,” Cindy snapped.
“Okay, what did the person do that you need arrested?”
“For stealing an auto and stealing money,” Cindy explained. “I already spoke to someone who said they would patch me through to the Orlando sheriff’s department and have a deputy here. I was in the car and I was going to drive her to the police station and no one is open. They said they would bring a deputy to my home when I got home to call them.”
“So, she stole your vehicle?”
“When did she do that?”
“On the thirtieth. I just got back from the impound. I’d like to speak to an officer. Can you have someone come out to my house?”
“Okay. Okay, I’ve got to ask these questions so I can put them in the call, okay?”
“The thirtieth of June?” the operator confirmed.
“Okay, how old is your daughter?”
“Okay what’s her name?”
“Her name? Casey Anthony. C-A-S-E-Y.”
“And your name?”
After getting Cindy’s telephone number, the dispatcher continued. “And you said you have the vehicle back.”
“Yes. And I have the, uhm, statement.”
“Casey’s there right now?”
“Yes, I got her. I finally found her after a month. She’s been missing for a month. I found her, but we can’t fi nd my granddaughter.”
“Okay. How tall is Casey?”
“Five foot one-and- a-half.”
“Thin, medium or heavy build?”
“What color hair?”
“What color shirt is she wearing?”
“What color pants?”
“Oh, they’re shorts,” Cindy said. “But they’re plaid. They’re like pink and teal and light black plaid.”
“Does she have any weapons on her?”
“Is Casey not telling you where her daughter is?”
“Alright, we’ll have a deputy out to you as soon as one’s available.”
“Thank you,” Cindy said as she walked into the house and loudly declared, “The cops are on the way. She’s going to have to prove it now.” She turned around and went back outside.
Lee walked down the hall to his sister’s room. “Casey, here’s what I don’t get. What’s in this for you? Mom, as much as she doesn’t like that you’re running up her credit bills and all this stuff, she’s never called the police. She’s never even threatened to call the police. So why would you let all these other things be the reason why you get in trouble? I don’t get it. What’s your motivation right now? I just don’t understand. You’ve got to understand what’s going to happen when the officer arrives. So, let’s go through this right now, because I don’t understand what you’re going to do there.”
Casey did not respond.
Lee continued, “The officer is going to say, you know, ‘Good evening, Ms. Anthony. Where’s your daughter?’ That’s exactly what he’s going to say. And what are you going to say?”
“She’s with the nanny. She’s sleeping,” Casey said.
Lee continued in the role of policeman. “Great, Ms. Anthony. I’m so happy to hear that. That’s going to be a relief for everybody. So hop in the car. Your mom’s going to follow. Let’s go get her.” A shocked expression crossed Casey’s face. Lee shrugged his shoulders. “What’s it going to be, Casey? What are you going to say?”
Casey slumped and burst into tears. “Lee, you want to know the truth? I haven’t seen Caylee in thirty-one days.” She threw her hands over her face and repeated the sentence.
“Where have you been?” Lee whispered, afraid his mother would overhear. “When and where is the last time you’ve seen her?”
“She was kidnapped,” Casey sobbed.
Cindy heard the furtive conversation and knew something was up. She exploded through the doorway and demanded, “What have you done? Why are you crying? What’s going on?”
Casey raised her head and turned tear- stained eyes to her mother. “I don’t know where Caylee is.”
Copyright © 2009 by Diane Fanning
Diane Fanning is the author of the Edgar Award finalist Written in Blood: A True Story of Murder and a Deadly 16-Year-Old Secret That Tore a Family Apart, as well as nine other true-crime books (available from St. Martin’s) and the Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce mystery series. She lives in New Braunfels, Texas.